Question Boxes Launching in Pader in July!

UPDATE from Northern Uganda Medical Mission: It's official! NUMEM Health Centre will introduce our Rural Emergency Medical Communication System this July, sharing our goal of universal and quality health care access with community members. We are now in possession of eight top of the line Question Boxes that we will be installing throughout the district, and are in the process of purchasing a motorbike we will use to reach patients who live in the hard-to-reach areas. By the end of June we will have connected to a closed caller group through AirTel, and have begun surveying community members to gauge community need. We are so excited about launching the system and improving access to health care in Pader!

Screen shot 2014-06-06 at 6.01.06 PM
Screen shot 2014-06-06 at 6.01.06 PM
QB 2
QB 2

Question Boxes heading to Pader, Uganda!

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Screen shot 2014-03-18 at 9.45.17 PM

Hello friends of Question Box. We've got some big news - EIGHT new Question Boxes, built by our partner manufacturing facility in Taiwan, are right now making their way to Pader, Uganda! They are going to a great grassroots organization - the Northern Uganda Medical Mission. NUMEM is founded by local clinicians from Pader, who have founded a medical facility in the area. The Question Boxes will link directly to the clinicians during office hours, allowing people in 8 villages access to a medical specialist right away when something is of concern. Additionally, the Question Boxes will serve as a 24/7 ambulance dispatch, for the only ambulance in the District! The nearest hospital is 2-3 hours away, and this service will ensure that people in need can get transport in time. If you'd like to support or learn more about the project, please connect with us, or with NUMEM.

NEW VIDEO - Question Boxes in Pader, Uganda

We are working with a great local group, Northern Uganda Medical Mission - to bring 8 Question Boxes to villages in Pader, Uganda. Take a look at the great video NUMEM made, explaining why this new medical hotline is important, and how the introduction of Question Boxes will link communities to medical care:

Open Question - Navigating the technical white water rapids

Indigo Logo
Indigo Logo

The Indigo Trust just published our recent account detailing the wild and wooly journey we have taken to develop our newest offering, Open Question. This journey was generously sponsored by The Indigo Trust, and we got there thanks to our incredible and dedicated programming team, who went through incredible challenges to get us to the finish line.

Open Question – Persevering Through Technical White Water Rapids

Posted on

August 23, 2012



By Scott Fairbanks and Rose Shuman – Question Box

Our organization, Question Box, spent years creating and running local hotlines in rural, developing world communities. In 2010, the Question Box team agreed upon a major shift in direction. To achieve a real shift in development practice we needed move away from being implementers, and towards being a tool-provider. That way, we could spread and scale the promise of low-cost hotlines by taking what we had learned and creating a way for NGOs to build and manage their own hotlines.

Open Question, our software concept, was a keystone to building a hotline toolkit. Open Question is a software program that helps community organizations record data from incoming hotline calls, efficiently search for answers, and track call times, caller demographics, and answers to survey questions. The spec demanded a simple desktop interface that could work on offline, outdated computers in developing countries. Meaning, it had to be compatible with the likes of a Pentium II PC with 128 MB of RAM running Windows XP.

Read more

From our partner, The Zimbabwean

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Picture 45

Please help us win News Challenge!The Zimbabwean has entered the 2012 African News Challenge in partnership with Question Box – but we need all our readers to help us win. We propose to harness the unique power of Question Box technology to engage our existing network of journalists and readers in opening up new avenues of discussion and news gathering inside Zimbabwe.

In our own country as well as in much of Africa, media access is not free, nor is it a two-way discussion. Our submission can change that – but we need your help! The more popular our entry, the better our chances of winning the money we need to get it off the ground. If our supporters take 15 seconds of their time to leave a "heart" and comment on our entry, we stand a much better chance of being able to make a real difference.

So, please visit the link below and leave a comment and a "heart", and then forward this message on to all your friends. We're really grateful for the support you've shown us so far; we know that with your help we can continue to help promote freedom and justice in Zimbabwe.

Our submission:

Wilf Mbanga

Editor The Zimbabwean

Notes from the field - Santa Monica & Papua New Guinea

From Hayley, Open Mind - Question Box intern over the summer from Stanford.

Hi, I’m Hayley!

My interest in Open Mind started last fall when I read an article about Question Box in the newspaper. I had just returned from a summer spent teaching in a rural school in Papua New Guinea and I was brainstorming ways to continue helping my students. The idea of a live, local-language hotline struck me as genius. My students had few textbooks, and no additional resources such as libraries, computers, or educated adults. But they did have cell phones.

This summer I’ve been multitasking. During the day I’m interning at the Open Mind office in LA. I’ve spent most of my time working on the how-to-create-you-own-hotline manual that is designed for community organizations in the developing world. The manual will eventually be part of an online toolkit to guide organizations starting their own Question Box-style hotlines. I’ve also had the chance to learn a bit about grant writing and the daily operation of Open Mind. Simultaneously, I’m attempting to start a hotline for my old students in Papua New Guinea. I’m working with students at Divine Word University, one of the most prestigious universities in the country, to set up a call center where the university students will answer primary school students’ questions about everything from education to health to career paths.


Notes from the Field

Brendan Cassidy is interning with Open Mind - Question Box in Pune, India this summer.  He is a third-year Computer Science and Education student from Carleton College in Northfield, MN. This is his journal entry:

Over the past four weeks, I have been working for Question Box in Pune. The challenge we immediately faced was to provide Lend A Hand India (LAHI) with three Question Boxes. They hope to use boxes for remote education—students can listen to a lesson from a teacher and then respond to questions or ask questions of their own. Future LAHI-specific incarnations of the Question Box may feature radio technology, allowing one instructor to deliver a lesson to multiple sites simultaneously, so that many students can receive a quality education.

To prepare the boxes for LAHI, we first had to take down boxes that weren't in use, and traveling to those locations was a great experience. I didn't have an opportunity to see them in use, but I definitely got a better handle on what the project is about by seeing the communities in which the boxes were being used. Next, we constructed some simple circuits to go inside of the boxes.

Previously, a user had to hold a button for a while before a call was made, but with the changes we made, a user now only has to press the button for a moment. This will make the boxes easier to use, which will hopefully enable more people to use them. Finally, we applied new stickers and coats of paint. The new boxes are looking great!


We are now working to create comprehensive manuals on the Question Box, covering everything from assembly to maintenance. I'm excited for the opportunity to work with people from the community to make sure the manuals are clear and accessible, and I'm looking forward to making something that might help Question Box spread all over the world.


New Hotline in Thajavur

The hotline for dairy farmers in Thajavur, India is operational! Open Mind—Question Box has been working with Arohana Dairy Private Limited to create a hotline which will contribute to the organization’s goal of creating highly productive dairy clusters by empowering and involving dairy farmers. The hotline's focus is on questions related to animal husbandry.

So far, phones have been installed at milk collection centers in four of the ten villages Arohana is working in. Dairy farmers can use those phones to get a direct connection to Tamil Nadu Veterinary and the Animal Sciences University where experts are available to answer their questions. The hotline Operators will use the opportunity to collect information about the dairy farmers and their questions. Arohana will analyze the resulting data to find trends in the way the dairy farmers think, common misconceptions they may have, and how they get their information. Hopefully this analysis will allow Arohana to refine its programs and initiatives to better help the local dairy farmers. Meanwhile, the self-sustaining hotline service, which uses coin-operated phones, will be directly and immediately helping the diary farmers.

Question Box in new town

The Question Box has just made its debut in Manjiri, a town outside of Pune. Question Box engineers Satish and Sachin (on left, Sachin with mask) are shown with the grocery story proprietor.

Satish's sister has just joined as a community awareness worker, and she will be circulating amongst the population to educate them on the Question Box.

We immediately got questions on poisonous snakes and the price of Toor Dahl.

See and download the full gallery on posterous

Questions from July 9

Why types of questions have we received lately at Question Box?

  • How can one control Avocado fruits from getting rotten and falling off?
  • Which criteria can a farmer use to select eggs which can hatch only cocks
  • An s.6 student wants to invest but he has only 100.000/=, how can u help him invest in something good without getting a loan?
  • how can one control the moto weed which destroys crops?
  • how long does it take for banana suckers to dry without being affected by diseases?
  • the man's pig has wounds on its ears what should he use to treat it ?

Currently our service is being used as part of an Agricultural study with our partners at the Grameen and the Gates Foundations. So questions like the ones about livestock and farming are expected. However, it's always interesting for us when we get questions that don't fall into those categories. For instance, the question above about investment is particularly interesting to Question Box.


Because there are a lack of viable financial solutions and related education solutions for rural populations. Are there other students in this area that are interested in saving/investing? If not, can this particular student be motivated in some way to help us serve his community? Are there programs in place that can even facilitate this type of investment? 100.000 Ugandan Shillings is about fifty dollars and half to a third of the cost of average school fees here which is actually a lot of money in this particular region.

Volunteer Medical Professionals Needed to Answer Questions

In both Uganda and India, the Question Box service receives a lot of health related questions. We are looking for medical professionals who are qualified to answer questions from the rural developing world. Here's a sample of recent unanswered medical queries from Uganda:

Can a person get swine fever / flu when he eats pork?

What is the best drug for candida?

I have chronic head ache and I can't even carry anything on my head and I get thirsty all the time?

The man developed high blood pressure and later a wound on his leg and its not curing yet he has been at Mulago Hospital but no change what should he do?

What are the dangerous signs of pregnancy in women?

Why do some women have deep voices like men?

If you're interested in helping out, please contact us !

View QB Data in Real-Time

An app we've been using internally for a long time goes public!

Recently, I began thinking about the data we were collecting and of ways to make it more accessible. Because there was a real time-input (people calling the service), I decided I would try to offer a real-time feed of the questions coming in from people who have no computers, sometimes even no phones. How can they not have phones you ask? Well, in our current pilot with Grameen-Uganda, Question Box works by sending people called Community Knowledge Workers into the field to aggregate questions from rural communities. The CKW then dials a call center (located at Appfrica Labs) with operators on standby waiting to look up the answers. As the operators enter a search (complete with the demographic info of the question asker) the application is populated with those queries, as they occur in real-time. If you’ve ever been to Google’s Mountain View campus, they have a monitor displaying search terms as they are being entered by billions of people around the world, this is the same general concept applied to people who normally live their lives far beyond reach of the web.

The application is called World Wants to Know or WW2K. It’s an exercise in data visualization and offers insight as to the types of information these populations are interested in. Before you ask what the answers are, we do give them to the callers but to protect their identities as well as the interests of our pilot partners, that information (unfortunately) cannot be shared. Over the next few weeks I hope to add many new visualizations to the site based on the data we’re collecting in India and Uganda.


Grameen hosts focus group for Question Box

Here's a few shots from the extensive focus group this week. The CEO of Grameen Foundation Alex Counts was there, as were Whitney Gantt, Eric Cantor (Applab), David Edelstein and Kiki Noviandi (Applab Indonesia). The format worked well with two focus groups held throughout the day.

There were two presentations on “What is it like to be a CKW?” and one presentation from our operators on “What is it like to be an AQB Operator?”.

For the focus groups, essentially we all sat around in a circle, Nat, Barbara and I being in separate groups with between 15 and 20 CKWs. Each operator I think was also assigned to a separate group which allowed them to take notes and defend themselves on occasion. The operator in my group, Lydia, did a great job of not being defensive while pointing out specifics about the service and how we are working to improve. Then the CKWs all introduced themselves, where they work, and answered a random question that they had on cards that were handed out earlier. The questions were:

“What excites you most about AQB?’

“What is the most interesting question you received?”

“What service would you like to see next from Applab/Grameen?” (or how can we improve the ones you already have)

“What challenges do you face as a CKW?”

“What Applab service is most popular?”


The good news for us is that the most popular services were AQB and 6001 (Google SMS Search). The common gripe about 6001 is that information wasn’t thorough enough and lacked the ‘human’ interaction of AQB. The most common gripe about AQB was about the time it took to get a response back where 6001 usually takes only a minute to respond. Overall the feedback was positive as was the general response following Google, Grameen and MTN revealing that they were partnering to deliver the SMS applications (SMS Search, Google Trader, and Google Tips) the day prior.

These are really exciting times for Question Box!